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Cocaine bust is Pasco County's biggest ever

DADE CITY — Federal agents and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office spent a year and a half investigating a high-volume cocaine ring, and on Wednesday their investigation led them here, to a house on several acres on Duck Lake Canal Road. It's remote, more than 4 miles from downtown Dade City, on the eastern edge of the county.

They arrested two suspects at the house.

Then they began searching for cocaine.

"They knew it was there somewhere," said Kevin Doll, spokesman for the Sheriff's Office.

Doll said the detectives also knew that the drugs would be well-concealed.

They brought in Missy. She's a canine officer with the Sheriff's Office that helped make a big bust in 2008 — a truck carrying nearly $1.5 million in cash and 71 grams of marijuana. Her picture is still on the sheriff's Web site, showing her posing in front of the loot with her handler, Detective Scott Grant.

On the Dade City property, she zeroed in on a shed. Detectives started digging.

Jackpot.

Buried underneath the shed they found 52 kilos of cocaine — more than 114 pounds — and $200,000 in cash. The cocaine's street value is $1.5 million, Doll said.

"It is our largest cocaine bust in the history of the Pasco Sheriff's Office," Doll said.

A semitrailer truck carrying at least $2 million in cash was stopped Wednesday by the Florida Highway Patrol. Doll said it is related to this case, but he would not say where the truck was found or where authorities believe it was headed.

He said the amount of cash in the truck could be higher. Detectives were still counting it Thursday night.

Three men, all from Mexico, were arrested in the case. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, this was the men's first arrest in Florida. It is not known how long they have been in the United States.

Two of the men live at the Duck Lake location. They are Rogelio Zarco-Perez, 37, and Jorge Castillo-Ramos, 38, both charged with trafficking cocaine.

The third man is Audel Arrizon-Lopez, 37, with an address in Norcross, Ga. He is charged with conspiracy to traffic cocaine. Arrizon-Lopez was arrested on Bonneville Drive in Dade City, according to his arrest report.

The men are at the Land O'Lakes jail, being held for immigration authorities.

The 18-month investigation culminating in the drug bust was a joint effort by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Doll would not say whether more arrests are expected.

"It's still under investigation," he said.

Times researcher Will Gorham contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

Cocaine bust is Pasco County's biggest ever 08/27/09 [Last modified: Monday, August 31, 2009 12:55pm]
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